Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New paper could imply IPCC climate sensitivity to CO2 is exaggerated

A new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres claims "black carbon, with a total climate forcing of +1.1 W m-2, is the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing." This is a large increase from the IPCC AR4 estimates [~ +0.1 Wm-2] of black carbon forcing. However, the IPCC best estimate of the total of all anthropogenic [man-made] climate forcings since 1750 AD is +1.6 Wm-2. Therefore, IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2 and other 'greenhouse gases' [a total of 2.43 Wm-2] would have to decrease significantly, or negative climate forcings would have to increase significantly, in order to keep the sum of positive and negative forcings at the IPCC best estimate of +1.6 Wm-2.

  1. T. C. Bond et al

[Abstract: Black carbon aerosol plays a unique and important role in Earth's climate system. Black carbon is a type of carbonaceous material with a unique combination of physical properties. This assessment provides an evaluation of black-carbon climate forcing that is comprehensive in its inclusion of all known and relevant processes and that is quantitative in providing best estimates and uncertainties of the main forcing terms: direct solar absorption, influence on liquid, mixed-phase, and ice clouds, and deposition on snow and ice. These effects are calculated with climate models, but when possible, they are evaluated with both microphysical measurements and field observations. Predominant sources are combustion related; namely, fossil fuels for transportation, solid fuels for industrial and residential uses, and open burning of biomass. Total global emissions of black carbon using bottom-up inventory methods are 7500 Gg yr-1 in the year 2000 with an uncertainty range of 2000 to 29000. However, global atmospheric absorption attributable to black carbon is too low in many models, and should be increased by a factor of almost three. After this scaling, the best estimate for the industrial-era (1750 to 2005) direct radiative forcing of atmospheric black carbon is +0.71 W m-2 with 90% uncertainty bounds of (+0.08, +1.27) W m-2. Total direct forcing by all black carbon sources, without subtracting the pre-industrial background, is estimated as +0.88 (+0.17, +1.48) W m-2. Direct radiative forcing alone does not capture important rapid adjustment mechanisms. A framework is described and used for quantifying climate forcings, including rapid adjustments. The best estimate of industrial-era climate forcing of black carbon through all forcing mechanisms, including clouds and cryosphere forcing, is +1.1 W m-2 with 90% uncertainty bounds of +0.17 to +2.1 W m-2. Thus, there is a very high probability that black carbon emissions, independent of co-emitted species, have a positive forcing and warm the climate. We estimate that black carbon, with a total climate forcing of +1.1 W m-2, is the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing. Sources that emit black carbon also emit other short-lived species that may either cool or warm climate. Climate forcings from co-emitted species are estimated and used in the framework described herein. When the principal effects of co-emissions, including cooling agents such as sulfur dioxide, are included in net forcing, energy-related sources (fossil-fuel and biofuel) have an industrial-era climate forcing of +0.22 (-0.50 to +1.08) W m-2 during the first year after emission. For a few of these sources, such as diesel engines and possibly residential biofuels, warming is strong enough that eliminating all emissions from these sources would reduce net climate forcing (i.e., produce cooling). When open burning emissions, which emit high levels of organic matter, are included in the total, the best estimate of net industrial-era climate forcing by all black-carbon-rich sources becomes slightly negative (-0.06 W m-2 with 90% uncertainty bounds of -1.45 to +1.29 W m-2). The uncertainties in net climate forcing from black-carbon-rich sources are substantial, largely due to lack of knowledge about cloud interactions with both black carbon and co-emitted organic carbon. In prioritizing potential black-carbon mitigation actions, non-science factors, such as technical feasibility, costs, policy design, and implementation feasibility play important roles. The major sources of black carbon are presently in different stages with regard to the feasibility for near-term mitigation. This assessment, by evaluating the large number and complexity of the associated physical and radiative processes in black-carbon climate forcing, sets a baseline from which to improve future climate forcing estimates.

From the IPCC AR4:
"Despite these caveats, from the current knowledge of individual forcing mechanisms presented here it remains extremely likely that the combined anthropogenic RF [radiative forcing] is both positive and substantial (best estimate: +1.6 W m–2)."
2.20
Figure 2.20. (A) Global mean RFs from the agents and mechanisms discussed in this chapter, grouped by agent type. Anthropogenic RFs and the natural direct solar RF are shown. The plotted RF values correspond to the bold values in Table 2.12. Columns indicate other characteristics of the RF; efficacies are not used to modify the RFs shown. Time scales represent the length of time that a given RF term would persist in the atmosphere after the associated emissions and changes ceased. No CO2 time scale is given, as its removal from the atmosphere involves a range of processes that can span long time scales, and thus cannot be expressed accurately with a narrow range of lifetime values. The scientific understanding shown for each term is described in Table 2.11. (B) Probability distribution functions (PDFs) from combining anthropogenic RFs in (A). Three cases are shown: the total of all anthropogenic RF terms (block filled red curve; see also Table 2.12); LLGHGs and ozone RFs only (dashed red curve); and aerosol direct and cloud albedo RFs only (dashed blue curve). Surface albedo, contrails and stratospheric water vapour RFs are included in the total curve but not in the others. For all of the contributing forcing agents, the uncertainty is assumed to be represented by a normal distribution (and 90% confidence intervals) with the following exceptions: contrails, for which a lognormal distribution is assumed to account for the fact that the uncertainty is quoted as a factor of three; and tropospheric ozone, the direct aerosol RF (sulphate, fossil fuel organic and black carbon, biomass burning aerosols) and the cloud albedo RF, for which discrete values based on Figure 2.9, Table 2.6 and Table 2.7 are randomly sampled. Additional normal distributions are included in the direct aerosol effect for nitrate and mineral dust, as these are not explicitly accounted for in Table 2.6. A one-million point Monte Carlo simulation was performed to derive the PDFs (Boucher and Haywood, 2001). Natural RFs (solar and volcanic) are not included in these three PDFs. Climate efficacies are not accounted for in forming the PDFs.

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